A European Strategy for Data – The EU Commission reveals its data strategy

Christine Kammermeier

On Wednesday, 19 February 2020, the European Commission presented its long-awaited EU data strategy in Brussels. Acknowledging the changing economic and societal circumstances introduced by digital transformation, European lawmakers launched a discussion paper addressing their vision for Europe to take on a leading role in the global data economy. The paper was presented together with the Commission’s Communication on “Shaping Europe’s digital future” and a White Paper on Artificial Intelligence.

Wide ranging ambitions

While the intention is to encourage data-driven innovation to achieve better and more transparent governance and better public services, and to tackle societal, climate and environment-related challenges, the Commission also emphasised an ambition to support European companies in the face of competition from U.S. and Chinese tech giants.

Besides citing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect in May 2018 as a major move towards a “framework for digital trust”, the document also cites Regulation (EU) 2018/1807 on the free flow of non-personal data in the EU, the Cybersecurity Act (Regulation (EU) 2019/881) and the Open Data Directive (Directive (EU) 2019/1024) as important elements of its digital mission.  With the new paper, the Commission highlights its aim to create a single European market for data and outlines a strategy for corresponding policy measures and investments.

Four pillars for a single market in data

The Commission sets out its vision for a genuine single market for data based on four pillars:

  • A cross-sectoral governance framework for data access and use

Such governance structures should facilitate cross-sector data use, as well as making more high-quality public sector data available for re-use, in particular benefitting small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Key measures include the proposed legislative framework for the governance of common sectoral European spaces (see the fourth pillar) and the proposed measures on high-value data sets under the Open Data Directive, making data sets available across the EU for free in machine-readable format and through standardised Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

The Commission also aims to bring forward a new “Data Act” by 2021, removing barriers and introducing new regulations for B2B and Business-to-Government data sharing. Also planned is an analysis of the importance of data in the digital economy, together with a review of the existing policy framework.

  • EU funding programs to strengthen Europe’s capabilities and infrastructure for hosting, processing and using data and interoperability

The EU aims to strengthen Europe’s technological sovereignty for the data-agile economy. This shall be achieved through standard setting, tool development, developing best practices on how to deal with personal data (in particular around pseudonymisation) and building-out next-generation infrastructures for data processing, as well as identifying new trends and specific needs of EU industries (e.g. hybrid cloud).

Until 2027, the Commission aims to invest in a High Impact Project on the establishment of EU-wide common interoperable funding infrastructures, data-sharing tools, architectures and governance mechanisms for thriving data sharing and AI ecosystems.

Further, the Commission plans to bring together a coherent framework for cloud services in the form of a “cloud rulebook”.  This rulebook intends to offer a compendium of existing cloud codes of conduct and certification on security, energy efficiency, quality of service, data protection and data portability. Moreover, the Commission intends to facilitate the development of common European standards and requirements for the public procurement of data processing services and a cloud services marketplace for EU users from both the private and the public sector.

  • Empowering individuals, investing in skills and in SMEs

Further, the data strategy aims at empowering individuals to have a stronger say on who can access their data and how they are used through personal data spaces.  Actions include the strengthening of the portability right for individuals according to Art. 20 of the GDPR, as well as stricter requirements on interfaces for real-time data access and guaranteeing the neutrality of “personal data spaces”.

  • Common European data spaces in strategic sectors and domains of public interest

Finally, the Commission suggests the development of common European data spaces in strategic economic sectors and domains of public interest. These common European data spaces will offer the availability of large pools of data in the following areas: industry (manufacturing), Green Deal, mobility, health, finance, energy, agriculture, public administration and skills.

Challenges ahead
Plans for data-driven European tech industries to be incentivised to share data will provide public and private actors with easier access to huge reserves of industrial data and information. Developing a workable legislative framework for data sharing, while meeting privacy expectations will remain a challenge.